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Six-year-old Tyler Zerby stood outside Our Lady of Peace Church in North Brunswick yesterday, watching as white-gloved police officers slowly approached with the casket of his father.
Inside the church, mourners crowded the pews and softly wept as they waited to say goodbye to Lt. Christopher Zerby. Outside, hundreds of police officers stood at attention in crisp dress uniforms, saluting the passing coffin of their fallen colleague.
And as the flag-draped casket neared the church door, Tyler raised his small hand and gave a salute of his own.
"He belongs to God now," the Rev. John Polyak, pastor of the church, said during the funeral Mass and tribute to the officer who served in North Brunswick for more than 16 years.
Zerby, 41, of Robbinsville, Mercer County, was killed Tuesday when the rented sports car a fellow officer was driving veered off Route 130 in the township and crashed into a utility pole, authorities said.
Lt. Keith Buckley, 40, of Jackson, Zerby's close friend, was driving the 2006 Dodge Viper convertible. Buckley, an 18-year veteran who heads the department's patrol division, was listed in stable condition after the crash.
Zerby, who was in the passenger seat, died of head and chest injuries. The accident remains under investigation, authorities said.
For almost a year, Zerby had been head of the department's traffic safety division. He worked as an officer for the Middlesex County park system before taking a job with the North Brunswick police in 1993. He leaves behind his wife, Christine, and another son, Trevor, who was not in attendance yesterday.
Police officers from Middlesex, Essex and Ocean counties and beyond came to pay their respects yesterday to their fallen comrade. Motorcycles and a bagpipe and drum band heralded the arrival of Zerby's casket. A seven-man honor guard from the North Brunswick Police Department lined the path to the church on Route 130 near the crash site.
During the solemn church ceremony, family members listened to eulogies that described Zerby as a man who was devoted to his two families - his own and the North Brunswick Police Department.
Township Officer Tom Vingara said Zerby was a good boss and a man he could count on "to watch your back." Zerby also liked to take his time, Vingara said, laughing
He took his time mowing his front lawn and washing his car, and then he did it all over, but this time at his parents' North Brunswick house, Vingara said.
"He was a good man," Vingara said. "If God wanted someone who could make him laugh, he picked the right person."
Renee McCaffrey, Christine Zerby's sister, reminisced about how the Zerby home was bursting with happy children, toys and a large backyard with a swing set and jungle gym.
"He was a good father and he adored his family and two boys," McCaffrey said. "He was the rock of the family."
McCaffrey said she also remembered the time she had to move into his house when she hit a rough patch in her life. She drew laughter from the solemn group when she declared she didn't know why he wanted to deal with a pain-in-the-rear sister-in-law.
When the Mass came to a close, the funeral procession made its way to the Franklin Memorial Park in North Brunswick, where Zerby was laid to rest in a mausoleum.
During the short ceremony, the drum and bagpipe band played a mournful song as Zerby's fellow officers in North Brunswick, some crying, gave his casket a salute. In the brilliant blue sky overhead, a State Police helicopter flew. Then the honor guard fired off three rounds as a bugler played taps.
"Give him a place with your angels and saints," the Rev. Polyak implored the heavens.
Police officers handed the flag that had draped her husband's coffin to a tearful Christine Zerby.
Little Tyler was given his father's police hat.